With approximately 40 percent of the incoming class of 2019 being first generation college students, it is imperative that the University of Indianapolis offers the proper outlets and materials to help those students succeed, according to Executive Vice President and Provost Stephen Kolison.
“The challenge and opportunity for first generation college student is that you don’t have that natural cushion before you come to college,” Kolison said. “For example, say your parents went to college, that push; it’s almost an expectation [to go to college]. So you don’t have that [if your parents did not go to college]. You get that from other places. That can impact the ambition to get a college degree, as well as if you succeed once you get to college. Those are things that studies have shown. First generation students have those unique challenges, but that’s not to say that they cannot be successful.”
Sophomore psychology major Brooke Lightfoot said that she is a first generation college student, and although her parents did not have the opportunity to go to college, they pushed her to keep up with her grades and participate in extracurricular activities so that she would have that opportunity when the time came.
“My family was never really forced or given the opportunities to go to college, but when I was growing up my parents made it a goal of theirs to make sure I went to college,” Lightfoot said. “They kept up with my grades and helped me on visits to find the college that was perfect for me. But even if I wasn’t encouraged through my family to go to college I would still go on my own.”
With first generation students taking up such a large population of campus, Registrar Joshua Hayes said that it is important to have resources in place to assist these students, and to understand what their needs are. Hayes did a study over the course of five years, where he surveyed first generation students and their decision to choose a private school over a large public school. During his study, he surveyed 20 first generation students at Millikin University about their experiences at school, and their decision to complete a post secondary education.
“I don’t think it’s shocking for parents to want better for their students. So they think, ‘Is there something in my own life that I want for my child that I didn’t have?’” Hayes said. “So in my study I found that family members of first generation students were very supportive of them going to college. Because they wanted better for their children, or maybe not exactly better, but a different kind of experience for them.”
Hayes also found that the students he surveyed were oftentimes dedicated to their academics as much, if not more than students whose parents went to college. He said that the surveyed students felt a sense of pride in that they were not only the first in their family to go to college, but also that they were going to a private university. Hayes also said he found that parents were extremely supportive in their students academic achievements and were willing to support them in any way that they were able, even if not financially.
“Parents who didn’t go to college and are trying to help their student navigate the bureaucracy of college, might not know how to help,” Hayes said. “They may want to help, but they may not know how. They have very supportive people in their family, but that don’t have that actionable advocacy. So that can be a challenge for first generation students.”
Lightfoot said that having a large family that is invested in and supportive of her success is a big factor in her dedication to her studies. Many of her younger siblings look up to her and admire her academic achievements, according to Lightfoot. It is important to her to set the standard for her siblings to be academically successful so that they follow her example.
“My parents want me to have a better life with better opportunities than them so they still encourage me to go to college even though they didn’t,” Lightfoot said. “My drive to finish college is impacted by the fact that I have little sisters who look up to me. It makes me want to finish and make my family proud and be a good role model.”
Junior art education major Harley Engleking said that her parents were also very academically oriented, despite not attending college themselves. According to Engleking, in her hometown of Seymour the two options are to get out of the town and go to college, or stay for factory work.
Engleking said that she wanted to pursue art education since she was in first grade, and her teacher inspired her through encouraging her in her work. Even at a young age, her teacher found qualities within her that showed that she was artistically inclined. Engleking said that her passion for education and art drove her to leave her hometown after graduation and pursue higher education so that she could someday become an art teacher.
“I’ve pretty much always wanted to be an art teacher so that’s kind of what made me want to branch out [from my hometown],” Engleking said. “But I did work the factory life for a while over the summer because that was the best work we had, and it had the best pay, so I’ve actually experienced what they’ve done and I can see that it’s something that I don’t want to do for my whole life.”
Engleking said that the effects of watching her parents struggle for money was also a major factor in driving her to go to college.
“I know that we’ve struggled our whole lives for money, so just knowing their financial situation,” Engleking said. “It was definitely a big push for me to go to college just so that I would have a better job.”
Although her parents are very supportive in her pursuing higher education, Engleking said that she is solely responsible for the financial expenses of college. She said that her family provides the most moral support that they can, but in order to support herself financially, she still has to go home every weekend to work so that she can afford to continue to go to school.
“Coming from the family I do, I have had zero [financial] contribution the entire time I’ve been here, I’ve had to do it all myself,” Engleking said. “I have scholarships, I have loans in my name and everything else is out of my pocket. So that’s why I work so much. I do the factory thing [over the summer] because aside from being there for me as people, it’s not anything.”
Kolison said that UIndy has multiple programs in place to help students out financially, academically and emotionally, whether they are first generation students or not. He said that programs like the academic success center can help students with their academic state, while scholarships and other financial aid can help students afford the university.
According to Kolison, the way that UIndy is designed—with small class sizes, programs to aid students in multiple ways and professors that are invested in the students—makes it almost impossible for students to slip through the cracks or get lost in the crowd.
“If your parents do not have the level of income that can help you to enroll and remain a student, it’s going to be tough because now you’re not only thinking about your academic success, you’re thinking about your finances,” Kolison said. “So what UIndy does is that it tries everything it can to find financial aid for almost all of our students. The University is involved in fundraising for scholarships and all other kinds of financial aid to do that. That helps, but it does not mean that the worry is still not there.”
According to Hayes, the programs in place for students at UIndy directly impact and assist first generation students.
“I think the fact that we’re a smaller [school] and we have faculty that are really dedicated and really focused on students success is probably the biggest thing,” Hayes said. “We have caring faculty and staff and we have various programs in place for any student that needs assistance. It’s not actually normal for small private schools like UIndy to have an advising center… I feel like we have some kind of magical recipe for success here.”